“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” prompts a family’s Greek odyssey.
Who: Miriam (the author) and Sam Morataya; our three daughters, Isobel (12), Charlotte (10) and Amanda (7); and our son, Tom (5), all from Annapolis, Md.
Where, when, why: Our oldest daughter, Isobel, got into Greek mythology thanks to Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series. These fun books make the Greek gods come alive. Our family caught her enthusiasm, and so I started to plan a trip to Greece. (I was just looking for an excuse to go, really!) Our trip there was June 8-22, starting in Athens, then Mount Olympus, Meteora, the Ionian Sea island of Lefkada, and Delphi. I wanted to mix ancient sites with natural beauty and a few beach days.
Highlights and high points: Meteora, an amazing geological landscape of weathered rock pinnacles topped by medieval monasteries, was really fascinating. Although the kids grumbled about hiking up to Moni Agias Triados from our hotel, it was rewarding to hike the hills approaching the monastery and then climb the steps carved into the rock to get to the top and enjoy the serenity of the small monastery.
We spent five days on the southern coast of Lefkada, connected to the mainland by a bridge. (Sam gets seasick, so this was a perfect island option for us.) Lefkada is a stunningly beautiful mountainous island with sparkling water that varies
from light blue to turquoise and small villages clustered here and there. We stayed near Vasiliki, in a secluded villa with an infinity pool and sweeping view of the sea and the distant island of Ithaca.
Cultural connection or
disconnect: We visited Greece during their financial turmoil, and although we saw little evidence of unrest, we did leave with strong feelings of hope that this amazing culture and way of life can rise above the current difficulties. It was so nice to encounter so many lovingly tended family businesses — everything from gas stations, supermarkets, hotels and tourist shops. My favorite memory of Athens was closing my eyes while on the Acropolis hill and hearing three overlapping sounds from the city below: music drifting up from a concert, megaphone voices from a political demonstration and church bells.
Biggest laugh or cry: The logistics of our trip were tricky, and my responsibility. My plan to get from Athens to Mount Olympus was to take the train to Larissa and then pick up our rental car and drive the rest of the way. I thought I had it all timed out, but when we got to the Avis in Larissa at 3 p.m., it was closed, and the sign on the door stated their hours: 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., then 6 to 7:30 p.m. We had to laugh, because although Americans might have unreasonable expectations of service providers, these hours, at a national chain, were ridiculous! We had to spend three long hours in the humdrum (sorry) town of Larissa with four tired kids.
How unexpected: It was a pleasant surprise how easy it was to navigate our drive around mainland Greece. During our two-week trip, we traversed 1,300 miles of the country and, because of a rental glitch, did so without a GPS! At first we were dismayed, but we found that with our MapMe app and the easy road system signposts — in Greek and English — we reached each destination without too much trouble. The bonus of all the driving we did was that we saw a full representation of the country, from the beautiful coastal roads along impossibly blue water, to twisty mountain highways, to charming villages and not-so-charming industrial stretches.
Fondest memento or
memory: Every two years, we take our kids on a “big trip.” Each time, I am struck by how adventurous and open to new experiences they are. My gift this year was seeing them exploring ancient ruins while chatting about mythology and enjoying the adoration of shop owners when trying out their few Greek words. As we came upon a temple of Apollo in Delphi, our 5-year-old said, “He’s the sun god, and look, the sun shines into his temple!”
Inspired by books about Greek mythology, theMoratayas went to the Ancient Agora of Athens, above, with the Acropolis behind them, stayed on an Ionian island and drove across the mainland — sans GPS.